April 30, 2007


Late this afternoon, With-a-Why showed me his newest game, something he calls fyjording. To play, you find a stretch of woods partially flooded, carry a long stick, and wear the dry sneakers that you have to wear to school because they are the only pair of shoes you own. The trick is to pole vault yourself over the puddles, balancing on clumps of moss or old logs, trying to keep your sneakers dry as you cross water that stretches for hundreds of feet in each direction.

With-a-Why warned me that the sensible boots I wear in the woods would be no good for the game, and he was right. Boots sink into the mud and get stuck, and sometimes fall off just as you are leaping across a ditch of muddy water. And it's more dramatic to plunge into a foot of water wearing your only dry sneakers. I gave up after a while and just walked through the water, while With-a-Why kept doggedly on, even though his sneakers were soaked. By the time we had reached higher ground, it was getting dark and we were both splattered with mud.

With-a-Why loves science fiction, and the woods this afternoon looked like something out of a science fiction novel. Tangled vines hung from the bare branches of trees, and the puddles were filled with subtle colours – some dark and edged with purple, some filled with green algae, some muddy brown. With most foliage still waiting to burst forth, the forest floor is brown with dead leaves, and the mossy logs from fallen trees look like creatures slithering past.


April 29, 2007

Talkin' Sunshine Blues


As I walked through my woods this morning, I could see the results of the heavy, wet snow we had just a few weeks ago. In the grove of scotch pines, tops of trees snapped off, some of them crashing to the ground while others dangle precariously high above my head, the branches and broken trunks silhouetted against sky. I wore my tall rubber boots as I splashed through muddy puddles filled with dead leaves and broken branches.

I could see spring creeping through the woods. Little green leaves are unfolding on honeysuckle branches and wild raspberry, sedges are growing up from the mud, and the leaves of mayflowers are opening in patches. The nice thing about the lack of thick foliage in early spring is that I can see where I am going in the woods. It was a good day to walk my boundaries: I could spot old fence posts, bits of barbed wire embedded in tree trunks, surveyor's ribbons, and an iron pipe that is usually hidden beneath vegetation.

The warm air and sunshine made it impossible to spend any time indoors. Who can grade papers when the world is filled with new mud? When I returned from my morning walk, I tackled the dead plants in my gardens, pulling up dead stalks and piling them into the compost pile. Then my husband joined me for an afternoon walk at Pretty Colour Lakes, where the water was shining green blue. At the far end of the lake, we saw a man with white hair fishing by himself; he turned out to be Outdoor Girl's father, a man I've known since second grade. We stopped and chatted, of course, catching up on family news, and then he returned to his peaceful casting.

Late in the afternoon, I joined Shaggy Hair Boy and With-a-Why for a walk in our own woods. Well, not so much a walk as a running and leaping over mud puddles. They were happy to discover all the newly fallen trees, which shifted the positions of many of the thick wild grape vines. Shaggy Hair was determined to find a vine that would support his weight so he could dramatically swing over some of the big puddles, screaming as he did so. With-a-Why followed his lead, of course, and soon they were both soaked in muddy water. Their sneakers squished noisily as we followed a trail back to the house, a sound I have always associated with spring.

Woods in spring

April 28, 2007

Nya weñha Skä•noñh

That's what the sign said as we walked through the doors. Welcome.

The warm air smelled of frying meat and bread. Big tables held pottery, woven baskets, handmade jewelry, moccasins and colorful blankets, artwork of all types. Music came from one end of the big room — four men with guitars, a drummer, and an older man who was amazing on the harmonica. Near the band, several little kids were dancing, moving hips and arms with abandon. On the other end of the room, people gathered to eat corn soup, tacos, and fry bread.

We wandered through the tables, examining the jewelry, smelling the baskets and leather goods and lavender soap, and stopping to buy some hot soup. Then when we'd had our fill of the music and crafts, we drove to the school that the kids in the nation attend. I wanted to show Blonde Niece the nature trail behind the school.

We followed the boardwalk that wound through the trees and the puddles, taking us to a muddy stream that flowed by peacefully. We were the only ones on the boardwalk on this overcast spring day. A faint mist of green covered the honeysuckle bushes, leaves just coming out, and the skunk cabbages pushed through the mud and water with bright green leaves. The first green of the season. We walked the paths, chatting quietly and looking at trees that hung over our heads, welcoming spring on this overcast day.

First green

April 27, 2007

One more week!

This week, as I was putting With-a-Why to bed, I looked around at my daughter's bedroom. It's a tiny corner room with space for a single bed pushed against the wall, a trunk under the window, and a bookshelf tucked against the closet; it's a pretty room, with one wall painted pink and translucent white curtains on the windows. While Beautiful Smart Wonderful Daughter has been living in City Where Lager is Drunk in Pints, With-a-Why has been sleeping her room – partly because he goes to bed earlier than the older boys and partly because he misses her. His stuffed animals are piled on her bed, and his special blanket and pillow. His books and comic books are scattered on the floor and piled in stacks on the trunk next to her bed, and the windowsill is filled with random items that belong to him.

"We need to clean this room before your sister comes home," I warned With-a-Why. He looked up at me from under his long black eyelashes, shrugged, and went back to the sketch he was doing. He's the baby of the family, and the amount of cleaning he does would barely keep the health department away.

I did not let his response deter me. Yesterday, I announced to the whole household, which includes various extra kids, that we were going to clean the entire house this week in honor of my daughter's return. A thorough cleaning. Closets and everything. The gang of teenage boys looked at me with a decided lack of enthusiasm and went on playing cards. Shaggy Hair boy muttered something about how he'd be willing to clean if he could skip school on Friday.

Neighbor Woman, who had stopped by to pick up Older Neighbor Boy and Philosophical Boy, listened to my pronouncement and laughed.

"But if the whole house is clean, it won't feel like home to her."

She's got a point there.

April 26, 2007

Nitrogen derivatives and index cards

Guitar practice

Because Boy in Black had an organic chemistry test this afternoon, he came home last night after his drum lesson, stayed overnight, and skipped his morning class. This morning, he and I both worked in the quiet living room. He claimed the couch – by sleeping there. And I got the comfy chair next to the fireplace.

It's inspiring to work in the presence of someone as intense and focused as Boy in Black. Watching him prepare for an organic chemistry test is a bit like watching an athlete about to run an Olympic trial. It's the third test he's had this semester so by now I knew what to expect.

He wakes up at about 10 am, grabs a cup of cocoa, and then pulls out his laptop and his chemistry notebook. For an hour or two, he concentrates intensely, covering both sides of a sheet of paper with notes and formulas written in tiny handwriting. By the time he's done, the paper is so filled with symbols and words that looking at it makes me dizzy.

When he is ready for a break, he'll sit at the drums for half an hour, pounding out some kind of rhythm. Or he'll sit on the floor with his electric guitar, practicing songs. He might sit down at the piano and play song after song, or sometimes the same song over and over again. Or he'll pick up his acoustic guitar, put on the harmonica necklace, and stroll about the house doing his best Bob Dylan impression. Even when he's playing music, he is so focused that he notices nothing around him.

After half an hour of music, he returns to the sheet of paper that is filled on both sides, every inch of it. He begins pacing with the sheet, memorizing everything on it. "I know all the concepts," he explains to me, "But before a test, I have to memorize the details."

We both interrupt our work to get food every once in a while, and that's when we might exchange a few words.

"Hey, you aren't wearing black today," I said this morning. He shrugged. "This is my Bob Dylan shirt. Besides ... I need to do some laundry."

"Have you actually done any laundry at school?"

"No. But I know where the laundry room is."

He's been bringing his laundry home all year, and my husband has been doing it for him. Yes, he's a spoiled brat.

"I haven't seen you bring home any sheets or pillowcases, " I said, "Have you changed them? Ever?"

"Sure. You bought me two sets, remember? I changed them at Christmas."

"What did you do with the dirty sheets?"

"They're in my room somewhere. I'm good until May."

During an earlier break, I showed him the project I am working on. I've got hundreds of pieces of creative non-fiction, and I am trying to put them all together into a book. So what I've done is write an index card for each piece of writing, and now I am organizing the hundreds of index cards into a structure that makes sense to me. Once I have the index cards in order, I'll be able to work on the manuscript one chapter at a time. I've already agreed to present one chapter of the manuscript at a conference in June, so I am hurrying to get the cards in order so that I can start writing as soon as the semester ends.

I thought Boy in Black would be impressed with how organized I was, but he gave the careful stacks of index cards an incredulous look.

"You mean all this writing is already on the computer, and now you are making index cards for each piece?"

"Uh, yeah."

"So like ... this is what people did before computers were invented?"

He grinned. Then he returned to his pacing, his eyes focused on the sheet of chemistry. I returned to the index cards, feeling somewhat like a medieval scribe.

April 25, 2007

Pile of roses

Pile of roses

I love the way trees in a city will flower, pinks and whites against harsh grey buildings, or the way flowers in a country garden will crowd colour up against a rock wall, or the way a whole meadow will bloom with daisies and vetch and pasture roses. I grow flowers in my gardens, and I gather wildflowers sometimes to put in vases.

But on a dark rainy day like today, when it's still too cold for flowers to bloom, I love the flowers that appear on my doorstop in a long white box.

I untie the ribbon carefully, and lift the cardboard lid, releasing the scent of damp petals. The roses, half-opened, are lined up neatly and carefully inside the box, bundled with baby breath, perhaps, or some ferns. The twelve stems reach all the way to the end of the box, wearing the green plastic holders filled with water. My kids used to fight over these little holders when I would take them off: if you put them over your fingers, you can look like some kind of evil villain with green claws.

I know that some people prefer elaborate flower arrangements or a variety of flowers arranged carefully in a vase. But what seems most beautiful to me is simply a pile of roses, spilling from the box, rose after rose, long stems dangling. I lift them from the box and carry them in my arms, petals brushing against my skin, before finally reaching atop my cupboards for a vase.

April storm

We gathered in an alcove filled with books, rows and rows of pastel-coloured library books with plastic covers and little numbered stickers. Along the top of the wooden shelves, paintings from local artists glowed. Through the high windows above the bookshelves, I could see storm clouds gathering in the evening sky.

When I arrived, a woman was setting up a table with trays of cookies, juice, and coffee. The audience sat on wooden chairs, many of them chatting with each other, many holding poems that they would read during the open microphone part of the evening. Evening Poet and I compared the poems we'd brought, and we decided that I would read first.

I'd been on the edge of a migraine all day, feel tired and sort of nauseous, probably due to the low pressure system moving through the area. Usually a thunderstorm is the only thing that can bring relief from that kind of pressure. But getting hugs from local poets and chatting with friends made me feel a little better. And always, I get a little adrenaline when I read. The first couple of poems I read were funny and political: the audience laughed appreciatively in all the right places. I love when that happens.

I'd decided to go with seasonal poems – first reading environmental poems for Earth Day, political poems and nature poems. Then I chose lyric poems from other Aprils over my lifetime. I read a poem about the move we made away from our old neighborhood seven years ago, then a poem with springtime imagery, and then a poem about my sister-in-law, who died this week five years ago. I read a poem that I wrote two years ago about pine straw, and a poem about the April of my junior year in college, a poem that describes the way we would get ready for a party on a spring evening. I read my way through April memories, stacked up on top of each other, with the bulky years between them dissolved into nothing. I ended with poems about massage, meditation, and healing.

When Evening Poet stood up to take her turn, I looked up at the windows to see that the cloudy sky had gotten darker. I could feel the pressure inside my head began to lift. By the time Evening Poet read her last poem, it was raining outside, a hard pounding rain. We ate cookies and drank coffee and listened to the rain thudding against the windows before everyone returned to their seats for the open mike. During the open mike part of an evening, we heard just a poem or two from each person. It's like opening a sampler box of chocolate and getting to taste each one.

By the time the evening ended, thunder was snapping against the roof of the building. As we stared out of the glass doors in the front of the building, lightning would flash open the whole scene, showing rain pelting into long puddles on the sidewalk and tree branches thrashing the night air. For the first time in days, my headache was gone as I stepped out into the storm and ran to my car.

April 24, 2007

Picnic weather

When my mother saw the weather forecast for last weekend, she sent an email to family members: "Is anyone interested in a picnic?"

On Sunday, the temperatures went into the seventies. We met at Pretty Colour Lakes, bringing sandwiches and fruit, wearing shorts and t-shirts. The sun felt hot as it shone down through the leafless branches, and soon we were drawn away from the picnic tables and to the lake. We weren't the only family who had the idea for a Sunday picnic – the usually quiet park was filled with children playing in the wet sand, teenagers wading in the water, adults relaxing in the sun.

As we walked the path around the lake, a trail shaded by cedar trees and smelling of mulch, we passed a teenager fishing, some kids skipping stones, a couple walking their dog, and a group of friends sunbathing on the bank. Even though signs at the park strictly forbid swimming or even wading, the water was too tempting to resist. I could hear joyful splashes as dogs and people leaped into the cold lake.

It was hard to retreat from the carefree summer atmosphere of the park and return home to the usual Sunday night chores. I emptied the ice chest we had brought and left it in the kitchen, knowing we'd be using it again soon. My husband and Shaggy Hair went out to take out the garbage and came back in the house looking puzzled.

"We found the garbage cans in the ditch, still filled with garbage," my husband said. He seemed surprised by this turn of events, as if he had not been driving past those same garbage cans every time he backed out of the driveway all week long.

"Yeah, the snowplow knocked them in last week, and they were buried for a few days."

"Was that snowstorm only a week ago?"


The breeze came in through the open door. My bare arms and legs had tanned already, and Shaggy Hair's face was pink with sunburn. The snowshovels propped up against the doorway seemed entirely superfluous.

Into the lake

With-a-Why, Shaggy Hair Boy, and Blonde Niece.

April 23, 2007


Hair tie

When I said in my last post that no one in my house wears fruit in their hair, I spoke too soon. Boy in Black and With-a-Why, it is true, prefer to tie their long hair back with bandanas. But Shaggy Hair Boy, who has the longest, curliest, most glorious hair in the family, sometimes requires a bunch of bananas to hold it back.

From across the ocean

Yesterday morning, I typed a blog post that describing my frisbee-playing son "tying a banana around his long hair." Within an hour of writing that line, I got a teasing comment from a blogger who lives in European Country Where People Speak English: "Having just spent a happy hour chatting madly on messenger, fingers flying too fast to worry about typos, I was delighted to see that Boy in Black ties a banana around his head! Would love to see that." She followed up with a smile face.

I laughed aloud when I read the comment. How funny that I can be writing on my laptop in my own living room on a lazy Sunday morning, make a typo, and have a friend on the other side of the ocean point it out to me almost immediately. I corrected the typo, of course, lest my readers think my household is even crazier than it is. For the record, we do not wear fruit in our hair.

The next time I sat down at my computer, an email chimed in from my daughter, who must have been reading my blog in her flat in the European City With Red Double-Decker Buses.

Yo, jo(e)

This is why you need me home to edit your blog. A banana, c'mon now.


April 22, 2007

Sunshine and new mud

Ultimate Frisbee

When Boy in Black is home, everyone in the household gets recruited to play Ultimate Frisbee. Even in snow or cold rain, he'll tie a bandana around his long hair, grab a frisbee, and start making teams, with no sympathy for anyone who would like to sit in by the fire. In snowy weather, the players straggle back to the house with red, chapped hands. On rainy days, players come back splattered with mud, dripping pools of muddy water on the linoleum as they grab towels and strip off wet pants.

This weekend, we finally had the perfect weather for the sport – warm enough for shorts but cool enough to keep bugs away. So even the fair-weather frisbee players, that is, my husband and I, were talked into playing. I am not much of a frisbee player – in fact, it's hardly fair to put me in the game with tireless teenagers, especially now that so many of them are taller than me – but I enjoy being out in the sunshine with my kids and my extras, watching their dramatics leaps and throws, listening to their banter.

I am not quick at learning different throws or running patterns, mostly because I am far more interested in learning the language of the game. "Stack it up!" Boy in Black will yell. Or "someone mark him!" Boy in Black has always been quick to pick up insider language from any group, from skateboarders to snowboarders to physics majors, and the younger kids pick up the lingo from him.

Boy in Black had lent a black bandana to With-a-Why, and I noticed that the two brothers looked just alike, their long dark hair pulled back like pirates. Of course, With-a-Why is still a few feet shorter than Boy in Black; he is still a little boy.

"You look so cute with your hair like that, " I said to With-a-Why. "Like a little pirate."

The teenagers gave me disgusted looks.

"Way to Mom him," said FirstExtra.

We were playing barefoot in a grassy field filled with puddles, and the sun-warmed mud felt soft beneath my toes as I ran back and forth, trying to guard With-a-Why, who is way shorter but frustratingly faster than I am. Whenever we stopped, I kept looking around at the green grass and the spring sun coming through the bare branches of the trees.

Less than a week ago, this landscape was still drifted in white. How good it felt to feel the sun on my bare legs, to slip and slide in the mud, and know that we have months of warm weather ahead of us.

Feet in springtime

The muddy feet of Blonde Niece.

April 20, 2007

During the Silence

Today was the kind of day we've been waiting for all semester. Sunlight shone, clear and unfiltered and strong, onto the green of the quad, warming the air until students stripped off hoodies and discarded backpacks to run around on the grass with frisbees. At the far corner of the campus, in the shade of a brick building, the last snowbank was melting, the puddle of water spreading across the pavement.

Students set up barbecue grills in front of the library, and soon the library was empty, as students spilled out into the sun, gathering at the smell of veggie burgers and organic beef patties, milling about in laughing, impatient groups. One circle of students sat near the edge of the quad with drums, and they began pounding out a rhythmic beat. Two young women, one in jeans and another in a flowing brown skirt, began performing with hula hoops, colorful over-sized hoops. Their bodies moved hypnotically, while the bright hoops swung in circles. A group of students on the brick patio were tie-dying shirts, twisting and wrapping the fabric, wringing the excess water out onto the grass.

It was finally warm enough for students to show off the newest t-shirts of the season. My favorites were the dark green shirts that the forestry students wore. The front of the shirt said simply, "I'll tap that." The back of the shirt showed the trunk of a maple tree, with a spout driven into it for sap. That's what happens to urban slang on a forestry campus.

My students and I had deserted our dreadful windowless classroom, and we were seated on the grassy slope at the east end of the quad, where we could see all this activity while we talked about poetry. The sun touched my face and my bare forearms as we discussed symbol and meaning. The ground was still a bit wet, but as Flannel Shirt said, "A muddy butt is a small price to pay on a day like this."

I was not the only teacher to bring my students out on this first day of sun. I could see another circle of students with books on the other end of the quad. Class was interrupted once by a student making a wild dash to catch a frisbee, but otherwise, we were pretty productive.

Just before noon, StudentAffairsPerson picked up a microphone and invited everyone to join her for a moment of silence for those had died at Virginia Tech, and for the family and friends of the victims.

All motion stopped.

It was like looking into a photograph. Even the shadows did not move. No one talked. Hundreds of students, all suddenly quiet. Every person just stopped, exactly where they were.

The kids playing frisbee stood frozen, the frisbees held still. The drums were silent, the drummers motionless. The brightly coloured hula hoops were held tight against the bodies of the women. The students at the grill set down spatulas and bowed their heads. The great chattering mass of students milling about the tables of food went silent. The students on the paths, walking from one building to the next, stopped in their tracks. The students at the tables, with their petitions and their posters, put down their pens. Students lying on the grass looked up from books or plates of food.

What was everyone thinking during this moment of silence? I do not know. We'd grieved for the victims during our candlelight ceremony, we'd talked in class about our frustrations, our anger, our fear.

As I looked at the sunlight quad, I could pick out familiar faces. The student leading the drum circle is a young man passionate about music. Two landscape architect students in line for food came out to my house last fall and told me how they would redesign my yard. I saw several of the students who had done a Ropes Course with me last fall. I could pick out the bright tie-dye shirt of Slam Poet, a student who has performed poetry in my classroom numerous times. The students at the grill have organized dozens of events on this campus.

I stared at the scene, memorizing the moment – the way the sun felt on my face, the smell of the burgers that spiraled on the breeze, the bright colours of the hula hoops, the posture of the drummers, the smooth feel of the poetry book in my hands, the breathing sounds of my students sitting close to me on the wet grass.

When the minute ended, we looked at each other. Across the sunlit quad, students began moving again, talking and eating and playing.

"I love it here," one student said quietly.

We opened our books and returned to poetry.

April 19, 2007


City at night

Her brothers have been talking about it for weeks. And finally it's getting close.

In two weeks, my Wonderful Smart Beautiful Daughter will pack up her clothes and books, take one last walk around her neighborhood in European City With the Bridge That Used to Fall Down, and say goodbye to the flat where she and her friends have lived all semester. She'll take one last walk along the river at night, looking out at the lights of the Government Buildings That Look Pretty at Night. She'll have one last drink at the pub, make one last run to the little grocery store to buy digestive biscuits, and take the long escalator at the Tube station one last time.

And then she's coming home to us.

April 18, 2007


It's really impossible to belly dance with an injured knee.

I wear pantaloons when I dance, black pantaloons made from yards and yards of billowing fabric, and no one can see my knees. But when my hips shake in a shimmy, the movement comes from scissoring my knees. When I change levels, my body sinking low and then even lower, the movement comes from bending my knees. Even when I keep my lower body still and do chest circles or snake arms, moving my upper body to the drum beat, my knees are bent to protect my lower back and keep myself in good dance posture.

When I hurt my knee at the end of January, stretching the medial collateral ligament and pinching the cartilage, I had to give up belly dancing for a couple of months, along with snowboarding, cross-country skiing, ice skating, and pretty much any activity that involved the use of my legs. I spent the month of February sitting in by the fire. Even walks on level ground would make the knee ache at night. Inactivity makes me introspective and melancholy; it was a difficult month.

During March, the pain had lessened enough for me to use my knee. The injury didn't stop me in early March from walking all over the City Where the Phoenix has Become a Cliche. The injury didn't stop me from walking up maybe a million spiral stone staircases in churches and other old buildings during my trip to the Country Where People Drink Lager in Pubs. And it didn't certainly didn't stop me from walking all through the hilliest part of the City Where Artist Friend Once Spent Lazy Afternoons in a Cafe Watching Women Saunter by Wearing Black Fishnet Stockings. In fact, I stopped with my daughter at a store in that Hilly Section Near the Famous Basilica to buy a red hip scarf and top, both covered with dangling coins, to wear as part of a belly dancing costume once my knee got better.

And finally, spring is here. Well, almost here. I've still got snow in my yard. But gradually, the knee has gotten better. It doesn't wake me up at night any more, it doesn't hurt when I bend it, and mostly, I no longer even think about it. I can run up and down the stairs without pain. Finally, it's healed. I get a twinge once and a while, but at last my body is beginning to feel whole again.

I can hike again. I can climb hills and jump over puddles without pain. I can run. I can climb the spider web at the playground and slide down the green slide. I can knee down on the floor without screaming in pain. I can put my pantaloons on, crank up the Middle Eastern music, let the drum beat throb through me, and dance.

Belly dancing

April 17, 2007

We light candles

We light candles

At a gathering on the quad of a college campus. In a chapel with wooden pews. In the crypt of a monastery. At a memorial service in the town square. On the windowsill of a home. At a prayer service in a school yard. At a vigil downtown. In places where we worship, places where we work, places where we live.

All across the country.
Little flames flicker against fear, sorrow, grief, anger.

We light candles.

April 16, 2007

River Birch

River birch at dawn

The sky was still deep blue, the colour of dawn, when I woke up. One glance out the window, and I could see that we'd gotten snow, the kind of heavy, wet snow that comes in April. It was the kind of snow that packs easy. It's fantastic for snowball fights: you can just reach down and grab a handful. It's very effective for closing elementary schools and making roads hazardous.

I pulled on my winter coat and boots and wandered into the yard. The river birches, the trees closest to the house, were bent all the way to the ground, branches and trunks weighed down by heavy snow. How strange they looked, the tops of the branches, the tips that usually touch sky, buried now under several inches of wet snow. The branches were bent but not broken. I planted these trees myself, and I knew they would survive the storm. They are native to this area, with branches so flexible that they can withstand high winds and heavy snow and ice.

The woods behind my house, on the other hand, are filled with all kinds of trees, and the scotch pines, planted in the 1930s by the CCC, are not native. Many are dying, and their trunks are rigid. On windy days, you can hear them creak. This morning as I stood in the yard and listened, I could hear a tree falling. First a crack, then a whoosh, and a thump. I know when I go for my next walk in the woods, I'll find all kinds of branches and trees down.

In class, my students were talking about the weather, the snowball fights they'd had walking to campus. Student From Southern State kept saying, "Is this what y'all meant by spring snow? I thought you were kidding!" We all knew the snow wouldn't last very long, and everyone seemed to be enjoying this one last snowstorm.

It wasn't until I had driven home early afternoon and opened my laptop that I read about the shootings at Virginia Tech.

It was hard to comprehend. Almost twenty years ago at Snowstorm University, where I used to teach, 35 of our students were killed in a terrorist attack, their plane blown up on their way home from the study abroad program that my daughter is currently attending. I can not imagine a tragedy on that scale happening in our classrooms and residence halls, the places where we work so hard to create a safe and nurturing community.

I walked into the living room to find my college-age son, who was sitting safely on my couch with his own laptop computer. "Boy in Black. Did you see –"

"Yeah," he said. "Virginia Tech."

We looked at each other. He's only eighteen, but he's the generation that remembers clearly the day the World Trade Center came down. Sadly, his generation is not even shocked or disbelieving when these things happen.

We didn't talk much about it. Every once in a while, Boy in Black would click to a news story and speak up with a number: the newest death toll.

Shaggy Hair went to the piano and played the songs he has been practicing. With-a-Why cuddled onto the couch next to his brother. My husband called home to talk and make plans for the evening. I made hot tea, and we ate the homemade apple pie my mother had sent over earlier in the day.

Outside the snow was melting. Big chunks of snow slid off the roof and to the ground. The river birches, their branches freed as the snow melted, straightened up like a group weary people rising to stretch their limbs at the end of a long day.

April 15, 2007

Saturday in the Park


The skies have been grey lately so when the sun came out briefly yesterday afternoon, my husband and I herded the teenage boys into the car and drove to Pretty Colour Lakes to take advantage of the warmth. Even though it was late afternoon, Shaggy Hair Boy, as you can see from the photograph, was still wearing his pajama pants. The boys had been up late playing poker, and I figured some fresh air would be good for them. My plan was to walk the trails around the lake, but they insisted on stopping at the playground first.

The playground is designed for small children, but no small children were in sight on this cold day, and we had the place to ourselves. It's funny how quickly teenagers will drop their attitudes to revert to childlike play. They slid down the slides, climbed the spider web, and even wedged themselves into the colorful train. The air was chilly, but it felt good to be out in the sun.

When we had slid down every slide and climbed every structure, we started on the trail around the lake. "You two go the other way," Shaggy Hair said to my husband and me, waving us off. "We will meet you halfway."

So my husband and I walked the lake clockwise, while the boys went running onto the trail that would take them around counterclockwise. The ice is gone from the lake now, and the water was shining a deep turquoise colour. Because the trees were bare, I could look across the lake and see the boys moving down the trail, disappearing when they came to clumps of cedar trees. They seemed so grown up all of a sudden. I could remember the days when we couldn't make it around the lake without a child begging to be carried.

As we walked, I reminisced about how I used to come to the lake by myself on summer evenings when the kids were young. After a whole day of toddlers hanging onto me, a baby wanting to nurse, and young kids fighting over who wanted to sit on my lap, I could hardly wait until my husband got home so I could to toss him the baby, grab the car keys, and escape to a place where I could have an hour to myself.

"It's sort of ironic, isn't it?" my husband asked. "Now you are sad because they are so independent and don't need you."

Parenting does certainly swing you from one extreme to the other awfully quickly.

After the quiet walk along the cedar-lined paths, we ended up back on the beach, at the playground. Skater Boy was climbing up the slide, and With-a-Why was crawling under the train. "Let's all do the Spider Web!" Shaggy Hair Boy yelled. I watched them as they raced about, talking and laughing and climbing onto these little animals on springs that were way too small for their bodies, the small playground bursting with their restless adolescent energy.

Reaching sky

Skater Boy climbing into the sky.

April 14, 2007


When I get to the horrible little classroom I was given for my literature classes, the desks are always in rows. The professor who uses the classroom just before me teaches in a traditional lecture style. His students take notes while he stands at the blackboard and talks. As soon as he leaves, my students go in and rearrange the room, shoving extra desks out of the way and pulling most of the desks into a circle. Because the afternoon class in the room is taught by a professor who also likes to put her students in a circle, we leave the room arranged that way.

One morning, I came in to the room to find a note on the blackboard: "Reading/dancing classes: Please have the courtesy to put the desks back into their proper positions when you are done with class. Thank you."

I read it and shrugged. I tend to ignore those kind of messages. I was busy looking for something in my backpack as my students came in, but they looked at the blackboard and began talking to each other about the message.

"Does he really think this is a dance class?"
"Dude, he's being sarcastic."

"The words please have the courtesy are kind of a snark, aren't they?"
"Yeah, like he's saying we aren't being courteous now."

Every time a new student walked in, she would look at the board and make some kind of comment like, "Dancing classes? We don't have dance classes here," and the discussion would start up again.

"Why are rows the proper position?"
"Yeah, why should rows be the default?"
"Maybe a circle should be the default."

"Most of the classes that meet in this room use the circle format."
"I think he's the only one that uses rows."
"Maybe we should leave a note saying Statistics/medieval studies class: Please have the courtesy to put the desks back in the circle formation when you are done with class. Thank you."

I pulled out the book I'd been looking for and looked up at my students.

"Gee, you have to analyze everything," I teased them. They laughed.

"I wonder who we learned THAT from," said Flannel Shirt.


When we went yesterday on a class field trip to the Nature Center at Lake Named After Animal Who Builds Dams, we were pleased to find a bunch of benches built into a semi-circle rather than straight rows.

April 13, 2007


For my contemporary nature literature class, I was given a horrible little classroom with no windows, ugly linoleum, and overhead lights that flicker, sort of a torture chamber for someone who gets migraines. I think the registrar hates me. But my students are good-natured about the dreadful room and we do the best we can with the atmosphere, pulling the desks into a circle and turning off half the lights.

Recently, we read Gathering Moss by Robin Wall Kimmerer, a book that includes both scientific knowledge and indigenous ways of knowing, a book filled with lyrical passages about moss. Halfway through the book, we realized that the classroom setting was all wrong, and we needed to plan a field trip. We needed to go outside and find some moss.

My students loved the idea of going somewhere on Friday the 13th. "It'll make a great narrative," said Dark-haired Student with Big Imagination. He lowered his voice dramatically, "On Friday the 13th, a group of unsuspecting students headed into a bog...."

I think we had all hoped that in the middle of April, we might have a sunny day. We imagined ourselves stretched out on the ground, writing in notebooks, talking about poetry, admiring moss while we enjoyed the feel of sun splashing down onto our skin.

Instead, we drove through a mix of rain and snow to Nature Center With a Lake Named After a Large Rodent. It had stopped raining by the time we got out of the cars, but the temperature had dropped and the wind was cold. It was a fine day for a brisk hike, but not quite the relaxing afternoon we had all pictured. The hemlock woods smelled wonderful as we started along a trail. The woods seem bare this time of year, and the brilliant green mosses did stand out, shining from old logs and tree stumps throughout the woods, even on this dark day.

The bog trail, which will be crowded with green during the summer, was filled with the grey trunks of trees and woody stems of plants, with pools of water that reflected the grey sky. What surprised us most were the colours in the bog: woven through all the grey were subtle reds and purples that will be hidden as soon as all the spring foliage bursts forth.

The wonderful thing about nature hikes with students from Small Green College is that they eagerly share all they've learned in their courses. One woman kept pointing out the mosses, showing us the new growth, and explaining what types we were seeing. Another woman made us all looked at the pitcher plant, a cool-looking carnivorous plant that traps unsuspecting insects. And in between the science lessons, students talked about memories of nature hikes when they were young. My rural students are always very comfortable in the woods while the urban students sometimes find natural areas, empty of people and traffic, a little creepy.

Of course, because of the cold, wet weather, we were the only people on the whole trail. We had the place to ourselves as we walked along winding boardwalks and through deep woods. "This could be horror movie," Dark-haired Student With Big Imagination kept saying, "I wonder which of us will die first?"

Bog trail

April 12, 2007


I've stopped wearing mittens.

Never mind that the temperature keeps dropping below freezing, or that we keep waking up to fresh snow. It's April, almost the middle of April, and at some point, I have to take a stand. If I give in and keep wearing all those heavy socks, those thick boots, that ski parka, well, if I admit defeat and give in to this cold weather, perhaps spring will never come.

I realize that the theory that the weather is affected by what I wear might sound a bit illogical. In fact, some have compared me to those crazy sport fans who scream and cheer at the television set and then later take credit for their team winning. I've been known to mock those sports fans.

But this is different. I know from experience that if I just put aside those winter clothes and act like it's spring, that the warm weather will come eventually. It happens every year. Sure, it means that my hands will be cold and chapped, and that I will have to run between buildings to keep warm on campus, but it's a sacrifice I am willing to make.

It's lucky I live on a deadend road without much traffic because when I am not wearing mittens, I do a pretty terrible job of scraping the frost off the car. I clear a small spot on the windshield and hope the defroster will finish the job before I make it out to one of the busier roads.

As I cruise along slowly, holding the steering wheel with one hand while warming the other by putting it under my leg, the sun hits the frost on the side window, making it sparkle before melting to drops of water. The woods and sky are muted and fuzzy, a blur of colour. For those first few minutes of my drive, I can look out and see the world with the eyes of a nineteenth century French painter.


April 11, 2007

The Old Accordion Player

Accordion player

Phone conversation with my father:

Me: How long have you played the accordion?
Him: The accordion? Why are you asking that?
Me: I'm going to put a photo on my blog of you playing the accordion.
Him: What?
Him: Where did you get a photo of me playing the accordion?
Me: On Easter.
Him: When I was in the bedroom playing?
Me: Yeah, didn't you notice me taking a photo?
Him: No, I don't remember that at all.
Me: I was standing right next to you.
Him: I guess I must have been concentrating on the music.

Me: You played accordion in the mountains. In the 50s. Right?
Him: You know, I never really considered myself a real accordion player.
Me: But you played it all the time.
Him: Well, everyone doubled. All the musicians did.
Him: I played trumpet and accordion.
Me: And sometimes you did singles on the accordion.
Him: Yeah, you don't need electricity or anything for an accordion. You can just stand in a corner and play.
Him: The accordion gave me another option.

Me: When did you start playing?
Him: Oh, I was a kid. It was the first instrument I played.
Him: But I really wanted to play the trumpet.
Him: So in seventh grade I started on trumpet.
Me: I can remember you playing the accordion when I was a kid.
Him: Yeah, but I don't play it as often now.
Him: It's too heavy.
Him: I was just showing your brother.
Me: Well, I took a photo, but I am going to put it in black and white because your pants and shirt clash.

Him: What are you going to call me?
Him: The Old Accordion Player?
Him: You always make up names for everyone, right?
Me: Well, I was just going to say you were my father.
Me: I didn't think you needed a pseudonym.
Him: I like the pseudonyms. Will-of-a-Wisp. That kind of thing.
Me: Will-of-a-Wisp? How does that make sense?
Me (incredulously) : You want me to call you Will-of-a-Wisp?
Me: That doesn't fit you at all.
Him: I meant YourYoungestSon.
Me: Oh. You mean With-a-Why.
Him: I like the names you use.
Me: Okay, I'll call you the Old Accordion Player.

April 10, 2007

Not yet

For weeks now, other bloggers have been posting photos of flowers blooming in their yards, and all the photos have given me a false sense of hope. When I went out in the early morning with my camera to see if I could find any bit of colour in my own yard, the only thing I found to photograph was an overturned canoe, covered with snow.


April 09, 2007


Natural Colours

Yes, it's a little strange for me to write not one but two Easter egg posts, since I'm vegan and don't even eat eggs myself, but Artist Friend sent me a photo of the Easter eggs they dyed at his house this year. Well, he'd told me about the eggs, and I begged for a photo.

Artist Friend went the natural route, preferring to use such things as onion skins, cabbage, and apple bark rather than the fizzy little tablets you can buy at the store. He spent a whole evening boiling weird stuff in big pots on the stove. I can just picture him stirring odd potions like a Shakespearean witch, filling his kitchen with steam that smelled like onion skin and cabbage and who-knows-what-else, joking with his son as he sucked him into the whole project, whittling bark off apple tree branches, wrapping eggs in cloth and onion skins and rubber bands, and making a total mess out of the kitchen. In the end, he produced a basket of lovely eggs with subtle colours.

Some of the things he tried – like beet juice or cherry juice – didn't work, while others, like the red cabbage, produced gorgeous colours. The failures, he said, were almost as much fun as the hits. And some of the experiments required patience, like being willing to soak the eggs in liquids overnight. He sent me some of the recipes that worked, and a list of stuff that didn't.

That is so one of the things that I love about Artist Friend: he willingly chooses things that are messy and complicated and time-consuming, and he has fun with mistakes and uncertainties. He will happily dive into a project that will lead to chaos on the counter and peelings on the floor and strangely-scented steam, and sometimes beauty, too.

It is a wonderful trait in a friend.

April 08, 2007

Spring colours


Yesterday, on Holy Saturday, I spent the afternoon attending a Memorial Service for Poet Woman's mother, who died this winter. I drove home through a bleak landscape: the browns and greys of early spring, with a dusting of white snow swirling across the pavement when the wind blew.

I arrived home to a house filled to bursting. I could hear the drum beat as I walked up the driveway. The Pseudonymous Boy band were jamming, with Older Neighbor Boy at the microphone. Another group of teenagers, their clothes covered with spring mud, had just come in from playing Ultimate Frisbee. They talked excitedly as they yanked open the refrigerator, looking for juice, their faces red from the cold and their hair tousled from the wind.

The room smelled like vinegar and steam. Red-haired Sister had bought three dozen eggs and dye. The younger kids were gathered around the table, drawing on the hard-boiled eggs with crayons and then dipping them into mugs filled with the bright colours, a ritual that represents springtime and new life.

Dyeing eggs

Dandelion Niece dyeing Easter eggs.

April 07, 2007

Coming for to carry me home

We gathered in a carpeted room filled with folding chairs. The table in front held flowers and candles. The table in the back held fresh veggies and fruit: strawberries, cantelopes, grapes. We looked at photographs that stretched back to the era when pictures were black and white. A thirteen-year-old boy played some lovely piano music, and two adults played several duets on Appalachian dulcimers. One man tried to read a tribute he had written, but choked up, and stood in silent grief while his sister, Poet Woman, read what he had written. Towards the end of the service, Poet Woman read several poems about her mother.

The afternoon gathering was a Memorial Service for my friend Poet Woman's mother, who died this winter. She had been ill, Poet Woman knew that she was going to die, and yet it was unexpected. I don't think any daughter is ever ready for her mother to die.

Poet Woman is a scientist, an artist, a photographer, and a poet. She is not a singer. But she led us in song anyway, singing an old spiritual that her mother loved. And of course, she told stories. She talked about how her parents encouraged her to do all kinds of science experiments when she was a kid: she once kept 1,000 white mice in her bedroom. One time her grandmother saw a baby carriage on their front porch and pulled up the covering, expecting to see some sweet little dolls: she jumped when she saw several snakes curled up in the carriage. Like many nature-loving kids, Poet Woman couldn't resist catching snakes and bringing them home.

Neighbors talked about summer afternoons at the swimming hole. Granddaughters reminisced about the great food their grandmother cooked: lasagna, pie, and honeyballs. I talked to a couple of poet friends I hadn't seen in ages; I met some of Poet Woman's extended family. Several bloggers I know were part of the gathering: we talked, like bloggers do, about some of the details behind our most obscure posts, filling in the spaces between the lines.

After a last round of hugs, I drove home in a quiet car, thinking about Poet Woman, sending her warm energy. The words of the spiritual were still going through my head.


April 06, 2007

Spring rituals

The snow that keeps falling every night is usually gone by midday, melting in the warmth of the spring sun. The daffodils are not in bloom yet, but green shoots are appearing everywhere. Red-haired Sister and her kids have arrived in town for their Easter visit. They've brought one of their extras, Russian Girl, who has grown about a foot since the last time I saw her. My kids are off from school for Good Friday, and they are out playing Ultimate Frisbee, despite the cold.

On Palm Sunday, we went to an art show held every spring at a local church. Urban Sophisticate Sister came home for the art show; she, my brother, and my father usually enter paintings or pastels. We walked around the building, talked to some of the local artists, ate the food that was passed around on big round trays, drank red punch, and looked at all the artwork. Several rooms were filled with paintings from professional artists, but farther in, long halls were crowded with work done by local high school students. I am always amazed at the work done by these kids half my age: paintings, sculptures, pastels, and all kinds of experimental art.

The only part of Holy Week that has seemed strange this year is that my Wonderful Beautiful Smart Daughter is not here. She's spending the weekend in European Country Shaped Like A Boot, visiting the City With the Colosseum Where Crowds Used to Watch Christians Get Thrown to the Lions. Four weeks from today, she will return to Snowstorm City; her brothers and the extras in the household have begun the countdown. Only 28 days until she returns!

Easter rituals have changed as my children have gotten older. We don't have any candy in the house – none of the kids eat candy although their mother most certainly does — and we won't be searching for plastic eggs. My oldest two nieces, Red-haired Niece and Schoolteacher Niece, won't be home: they will be meeting Urban Sophisticate in Big City Like No Other for Easter Brunch. But my brother and Drama Niece will join us for Easter dinner for the first time in over a decade. We'll still have seventeen people at dinner on Sunday.

We will gather at my mother's house to eat a big dinner and talk, and then probably eat some more. We will likely take a walk, even if it's snowing. The trails at Pretty Colour Lake are muddy and wet, but the ice melts more each day. Easter in Snowstorm Region very often includes mud and snow, but none-the-less, the rituals of Holy Week still remind me that warmer weather is coming.

Pretty Colour Lake

Pretty Colour Lake in April.

April 05, 2007

Bodily fluids

It was a familiar sight: a long line of women waiting to use the bathroom.

It was intermission after the first act of a famous musical. We were downtown last night – my mother, my sixteen-year-old niece, and me – to see a play that was on tour from the Big City Like No Other. Like all big productions that come to Snowstorm City, the play was performed in the main theatre housed in Big Brick Building. The lively first act had ended at about 9 pm, and we'd walked out from our seats on the mezzanine level to stretch our legs and use the bathrooms.

The line behind us was soon ridiculously long, mostly because of the poor design of the restroom, which featured an empty corridor, a room that held nothing but a huge mirror, a whole row of sinks with more mirrors, and then only three stalls, one of which was out of order. The restroom was spacious but had only two working toilets. It seems like whoever had designed this bathroom had somehow missed the point. Missed the point entirely.

I could just imagine what my architecture students would say about the design. How were all those mirrors going to help out someone who had been sitting in a theatre for a couple of hours and desperately needed to pee? What architect had designed a bathroom so ill-suited to the needs of patrons who need to get in and out quickly during a fifteen minute intermission?

"Wow, there's a lot of wasted space here, " I said as I looked around. I was talking to my mother, but the woman behind me jumped quickly into the conversation.

"I redesign this place in my head every time I come here," she said. She launched enthusiastically into her plan.

She'd eliminate the empty room with the big mirror that no one ever uses, get rid of four out of the five sinks, and add eight more stalls. One sink, with a small mirror above it, would be plenty, and could be moved out to the empty space that leads into the bathroom. Ten working toilets could get twenty women in and out in about five minutes.

It turns out that pretty much every woman in line had been redesigning the space in her head. Women in the line nodded and chimed in.

I am thinking that architect students who are planning to design public spaces should be required to find an overcrowded women's bathroom and interview anyone who has been standing in line for more than five minutes. That simple exercise could lead to revolutionary changes in the way restrooms are designed.

It seemed funny, I thought, as we left the building after the show. Clearly, the space had been designed with big crowds in mind: the staircases are wide, with escalators on both sides, and the corridors and foyers are huge. Certainly, the designer had given some thought to aesthetics: on one level, big glass corner windows give a lovely view of the city at dusk. You can look out at the big courthouse, the cathedral, the stone statue in the circle, and the mural painted on the sides of a building. But it seems that the architect forgot somehow, while designing the area around traffic patterns, that the hundreds of humans using the building would have bodies and bodily needs.

April 04, 2007

Bits of broken sky

My desk yesterday was covered with piles of stuff I needed to do. Neatly labeled manilla folders, yellow legal pads covered with writing, a pile of papers to be graded, and post-it notes of every colour covered the surface. I couldn't even set down my laptop without shoving aside some of the piles. But the sun was shining, and it didn't seem right to stay indoors. The full moon had filled me with a restless energy. I put on an old pair of jeans and my tall rubber boots and trudged through the mud to the woods behind my house.

The winter snow is gone. Oh, we are supposed to get some snow this weekend but that will be spring snow; it won't stay around long. The woods were brown and grey, the wet ground plastered with dead leaves and filled with puddles to stomp through. I don't think I will ever outgrow my enjoyment of puddles and the way it feels to just stomp right in, splashing water and mud all over.

How bare the forest seemed this time of year. The ferns stay green all year, but they were still pressed flat against the ground, as if they aren't ready yet to trust that those heavy layers of snow are gone. The young beech trees hold their leaves all winter, a dim gold against grey tree trunks. And of course, along logs and tree stumps and the base of trees, the brilliant greens of mosses glowed. In the summer, moss in the forest is barely visible, crowded out visually by all kinds of foliage, but in early April, the green mounds shine against the brown and grey background. Sometimes when the sun shines down through the leafless trees, bits of blue sky lies scattered in the puddles, broken by branches into odd shapes.

Flannel Shirt Student, who walks every day in the urban cemetery near campus, has been telling me he's been watching a family of fox; he's patient enough to notice all kinds of wildlife. And one of my blogging friends saw a fox family on her morning run today. In my woods, I see tracks in the mud – deer, mostly, and wild turkeys – but sometimes skunk or raccoon or fox or coyote, but I rarely see any animals. Perhaps it's because I am too loud as I splash happily through the puddles, tossing aside branches that have fallen onto my trails and sometimes pushing over dead scotch pines or birch just for the pleasure of hearing them fall. I see far more wildlife when I am sitting on my couch, looking out the window into the yard, than I do on my walks. I have to be content, as I stomp through the puddles, making my way through the woods noisily, to notice the tracks and the scat, and just know that the other creatures are there.

Bits of broken sky

April 03, 2007


"As soon as May gets here, we're going to be playing Ultimate Frisbee all the time," With-a-Why announced the other night. He's about the seventh kid in the household to make that announcement.

Boy in Black's first year of college ends at the beginning of May, which means he will be living at home again. He's been playing on the Ultimate Frisbee team in college, going to practices and tournaments and learning all kinds of things, like this move called a lay-out, which involves slamming your whole body into a mud puddle in an attempt to get catch a frisbee while simultaneously getting every item of clothing as filthy as possible. I have no doubt that as soon as Boy in Black moves back home, he'll be holding frisbee practice here every evening, with his siblings, our extras, and anyone else who wants to play.

It's always been that way. When Boy in Black wants to master something, he concentrates intensely, practicing over and over, putting all his time and effort into that one thing, until he can do it well. All my kids have that ability to be focused like that, but with Boy in Black, the intensity is somehow contagious. Boy in Black gets obsessed with some kind of game or project, and all the kids in the household, his siblings and our extras and his friends, follow him.

It's happened with music, of course, but also with games like chess or Scrabble or poker. Whether Boy in Black decides to tape weird stuff to the ceiling fan or tack blankets over all the windows for a game of Monster or build a snow ramp in the front yard, he always has a group of loyal followers. Whatever activity he chooses becomes the main activity for the household for the next few weeks. Recently, he was showing the younger kids in the house how fast he could do the Rubik's cube, and next thing you know, they were all practicing frantically, trying to master the technique, until every little block of colour was worn around the edges.


April 02, 2007

Moonlight Serenade

Last night, I was snuggled into the couch, reading the book I'd assigned my students, while my husband was upstairs putting With-a-Why to bed. Shaggy Hair Boy, who was doing his homework on the computer upstairs, came down and stood with his hand on the bannister, looking at me with the kind of casual look a teenage boy uses when he doesn't want to act excited about something.

"Hey, Mom. Know those tree frogs you like? I think I hear them."

I opened the window behind me, and a rush of cold air came into the room. We both listened. Clouds had moved in earlier, and it had been raining, and the night seemed dark and quiet. But then I heard them – just one or two, singing from the direction of the pond. We looked at each other and smiled.

Today was warmer, a sunny day that brought students out to the picnic tables on the quad. As I was putting With-a-Why to bed tonight, cuddling him and reading him a few chapters of the science fiction book he has already read but wants me to read, I opened the window in the room. This time, I heard a full chorus of peepers, their trilling and singing filling up the darkness.

After we were done reading, I turned out the light. With-a-Why snuggled up against me, then looked out the window at the moon.

"I'll probably wake up and come in with you later, " he said. "The moon'll wake me up."

It's something my youngest child and I have in common. We are both normally sound sleepers but a full moon on a clear night will wake us, filling us with all kinds of middle of the night energy. The night air coming through the window was cold, but I left it open just a crack so that With-a-Why could hear the peepers singing as he drifted off to sleep.

April 01, 2007


Branch against ice

The ice is melting.

At Pretty Colour Lake, the snowmelt from the hills runs into the lake, which overflows onto the trail, filling it with puddles and deep mud. Streams of cold clear water come trickling down the hills that surround the lake, shooting right across the trail. The ice on the lakes is melting fast now, but a big expanse of light blue ice still floats on the west end of the lake, with thin clear ice forming near the edges on cold nights. This lake is famous for its deep green colour, but this time of year, the pale ice reflects sky, and the lake is streaked with blue.

As my husband and I took a walk around the lake yesterday, we passed a bunch of kids playing in the mud. "Hey, you know what I discovered?" said one kid to his friends. "It hurts to put your fist through ice. It's sharp!"

The air was still cold in the shade of the cedar trees, but whenever the trail wound into the sun, I would unzip my fleece. How good the sun feels at the end of winter. We found a bench in the sun so we could sit and talk, looking out over the lake that was melting, melting, melting even as we watched.

At the far end of the lake, where the beach is, we heard a bunch of teenagers laughing and applauding as two of them stripped off their clothes and went running into the icy water. I have done that kind of thing many times myself so I just imagine how it felt. There is something exhilarating about plunging your whole self into ice water: every nerve ending tingles, every muscle feels like it's just been massaged, and body awareness crowds out all rational thought.

Ice melting


As I drove to Quilt Artist's house the other night, I noticed that the tall snowbanks in her city neighborhood were gone, completely melted, leaving the grey sidewalks bare. The city is always just a bit warmer than the rural area where I live, and as I pulled into her driveway, I saw green along the edge and clusters of white flowers near to the ground. Snowdrops! The first blooms of spring.

It felt like spring as Signing Woman and I pulled chairs up to the table to eat the food that Quilt Artist had prepared: noodles with sauce, new asparagus, roasted potatoes. A big bunch of yellow daffodils burst from a vase above the muted colours of her tablecloth. The daffodils came from the store and not her garden, but soon spring plants will begin flowering in gardens throughout Snowstorm Region, replacing the greys and browns of early spring with soft greens and brilliant colours. Quilt Artist talked about her plans for her flower garden, the one directly behind the house. We are all eager for the warm weather to get here so we can spend time with our hands in the dirt.

We re-hashed the events of the winter and caught with all that was happening with our families. Quilt Artist talked about the art shows her quilts will be in this summer. Signing Woman is looking forward to the birth of her first grandchild this August. The end of a March is a wonderful time: the winter behind us, we are looking forward to the cool sunny days of spring, and then the warmer, lazy days of summer. We got quite silly as we talked about the pajama party we had in February and made plans for the next big gathering. Some of the husbands in this group of friends refer to us as the "Wild Women" and we always feel obligated to live up to that name, although really our gatherings mostly consist of eating and talking and dancing.

"But it's nice to have friends with whom you can play the air guitar," Quilt Artist said.

The walls of her house are filled with quilts. I love artwork that can be touched (I am always getting yelled at in museums for touching things). Woven into the quilts are the images from nature: pebbles, tree branches, rivers, leaves, sunlight. After dinner, Quilt Artist showed Signing Woman and me a quilt she was working on. The colours of the quilts often reflect the seasons, and the quilt she showed us, draping it over the banister of the staircase, burst with the blues and greens and soft colours of spring.